It seems like ages ago that the Arizona basketball program was in shambles. Seeking their fourth coach in as many years, then AD, Jim Livengood had been thrice spurned (Calipari, Pitino, Floyd). And not only were they out a coach, there wasn’t much of a roster, either. The 2008 class was thin and the 2009 class? Non-existent.
The cupboard bare, the coaching hunt fruitless, things looked bad in Tucson.
It was then that Andy Katz said it. The senior college basketball writer for the worldwide leader proclaimed the rebuilding job at Arizona a seven year project. The declaration provided Wildcat nation with a lifetime of message board fodder and ensured Katz would forever be buying his own drinks in Tucson.
Wildcat fans were livid. Citing Arizona’s seat amongst the elite collegiate programs, draft picks, national prestige, and pride there was no way in a frozen desert it would take seven years to be good again.
Then Sean Miller signed, Tim Floyd resigned, the twelfth ranked recruiting class fell into Arizona’s lap, and Derrick Williams happened. In just his second year, Sean Miller had the seven-year project one shot from the Final Four. Arizona fans couldn’t serve the crow to Katz fast enough.
But what if Katz was right?
Or at least half right. Today we find ourselves looking at a less-than-talented Arizona squad playing mediocre basketball in a bad conference. This is the type of season that Miller was supposed to be coaching through in year three. This is normal when the aforementioned recruiting blunders and institutional mayhem set back a proud, elite quarter century of basketball.
But normal is not befitting fandom.
So Katz has taken heat at the cost of perspective. The reality is Arizona won the lottery with Derrick Williams and timed their brief demise just perfectly with the dramatic decline of Pac-12 basketball. The whole picture actually supports the fan’s view but Katz’s point isn’t a relative one. Sure, Arizona is back when compared to the rest of the conference. They’ve won a conference title and are back in the tournament. So if you’re truly satisfied with a five seed riding the coattails of a miracle player and following that year up with a “competitive,” you should be leading the charge against Katz.
But if your barometer is UNC, Kansas, Kentucky, and the nation’s other elite programs, the school’s Arizona was once synonymous with, then you can understand Katz’s perspective and the current state of Wildcat affairs.
Take the example of Kyle Fogg. For all of his hard work and perimeter defense, Fogg is not the type of talent that has the sixth most starts in school history. That would place him between Channing Frye (13 ppg/7 rpg/1 apg) and Salim Stoudamire (15/2/2) on the U of A career starts list with an outside shot of sitting alongside Anthony Cook (12/6/1). Fogg’s numbers (8/2/2) are comparable to Chris Rodgers (6/2/2), Jamelle Horne (6/4/1), and Isaiah Fox (3/3).
Stretch comparison? Perhaps, but none of these players are particularly relevant to Wildcat lore and Kyle Fogg will be; a strong indication of the program’s failures in the past seven-plus years. And be clear, by no means am I hanging any of Arizona’s woes on Fogg. He’s a tremendous role player. But he is a significant indication of the rebuilding that was and is in order, not a four year starter at Arizona.
Miller has done a better job than anyone could have imagined – Katz has to top that list – and certainly sped up this rebuild. Just look at his 2012 recruiting class. Arizona is going to be good – very good – but last year was an anomaly. Derrick Williams doesn’t fall into your lap very often. It’s taken three hard working years to secure that 2012 class and more work will come to secure the ’13, ’14, and beyond classes. That work will soon manifest itself on the court.
Until then, remember that Arizona is not trying to be the best team in the Pac-12. They’re trying to be the best team in the country and that’s not going to happen in two seasons. This is a program still rebuilding.
It just may be built in a little less than seven years.